Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.
In decades past, gaming laptops were considered a questionable value at best, but those dark days are long behind us now. In 2021, hardware has advanced to the point where the best gaming laptops can go toe-to-toe with custom-built gaming PCs thanks to mobile AMD and Nvidia GPUs that can easily slice through the latest AAA titles. Today’s gaming laptop displays even feature enhancements like v-sync technologies and high refresh rates for smoother play. Sound enticing? Read on: This roundup of the best gaming laptop deals which is your chance to score a beefy portable battle station and save some serious cash.
The two main considerations when choosing a good cheap gaming laptop are naturally going to be what you’re willing to spend and which graphics card you want (considering the GPU is what actually makes a laptop a “gaming laptop”), and these two are closely linked as your budget is going to determine what graphical performance tier you can afford. However, don’t overlook some of the smaller things that you might personally want in a gaming laptop – convenience features such as programmable button macros, customizable RGB keyboard backlighting, and so on – so that you don’t jump on that great deal only to end up with something that doesn’t actually meet your needs. For more detailed hardware analysis, read on.
What makes a good cheap gaming laptop?
A good cheap gaming laptop should first and foremost be affordable, but you don’t want to go for the first deal you find that simply happens to meet your budget. You can expect to pay at least $600 (usually closer to $700) for a cheap gaming laptop with a dedicated graphics card, although you can find a few that have AMD APUs with built-in Vega graphics for less than that. Also bear in mind that Nvidia recently released its new line of 16-series GPUs which have completely replaced the older 10-series graphics cards as the entry-level and midrange GeForce GPUs. In 2020, you’re better off avoiding older laptop models with these 10-series cards and sticking with the best modern GPUs ones, as the price is about the same and they will generally come with more up-to-date CPUs as well.
In the budget-friendly price brackets, the most powerful graphics card you’re likely to find in a cheap gaming laptop right now is arguably the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 or AMD Radeon RX 5600M, although you can expect to spend nearly your full budget for a laptop with this kind of graphical horsepower. If you’re going cheaper, though, then you’ll see cards in the GTX 16-series and RX 5000-series, pretty much all of which are still very capable of running modern titles at 1080p/60fps at good to high in-game settings.
For memory, 8GB of RAM should be the bare minimum (unless you’re going really cheap), and 16GB is a better mark to aim for in a modern gaming system. A higher refresh rate of 144Hz on the laptop display will also ensure a smoother experience when playing at higher framerates, but that’s something that you’ll typically find on gaming laptops sporting nicer GPUs like the GTX 1660 Ti or RTX 2060. That’s one of the sacrifices you’ll make with a cheap gaming laptop, but if you know what to expect, you shouldn’t end up disappointed.
Are cheap gaming laptops good for work?
A gaming laptop is still a laptop and can do everything that a laptop computer can do — that includes work. In fact, even a cheap gaming laptop can offer some advantages: Faster processors and increased RAM will make all of your non-gaming software run noticeably faster, and graphical work such as video editing and rendering will go much more quickly with a dedicated graphics card. Even if you mostly use your PC for work first and only light gaming, it might be worth it to shell out a little more cash for a cheap gaming laptop for the better hardware you’ll be getting.
Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.